Tribute to the legend – Benazir Bhutto; ‘Daughter of the East’ on her 11th death anniversary

Tribute to the legend – Benazir Bhutto; ‘Daughter of the East’ on her 11th death anniversary

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Bibi,

It has been over a decade since you met your untimely demise on December 27, 2007. It has been 11 years since the day the country lost one of its greatest leaders. The state that Pakistan finds itself in today may not surprise you. Unlike the others, you had the foresight to see the storm we were heading towards when you spoke of secular values.

The state your party finds itself in today, however, will crush you.

From your iconic father, to people of unparalleled substance, brilliance and integrity like Meraj Muhammad Khan, Aitzaz Ahsan, Raza Rabbani, Sherry Rehman and Malik Meraj Khalid among others. Despite these brilliant minds, despite your talented son at the helm of affairs, the party is a shadow of its former self, reduced to a mere regional player in Sindh.

Back in 1986, Lahore had welcomed you with one of the largest gatherings seen in Pakistan’s political history. Now, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has been virtually wiped out from Punjab.

With the monster of religious extremism still biting away, with the poison of sectarianism still dividing us, your presence has never been missed more. You gave a whole nation hope. You inspired millions of girls into believing that one day they would stand up to this patriarchal society and celebrate their independence. You exhibited Pakistan’s best face to the global community. You were a publicist, administrator and leader, all rolled into one.

Of course, you were not perfect. You had your flaws, like everyone else; the allegations of corruption and high-handedness, to name a few. But none of them were ever proven in the court of law. But you held the moral high ground in-spite of everything tossed your way. You even reached out to your old foe Nawaz Sharif to mend fences and put on a united front against Pervez Musharraf. But you never lived to see the end of Musharraf.

One might disagree with her political ideology, but she was a visionary and seasoned politician. Following the legacy of her charismatic father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, she audaciously faced all perils. The father entered the gallows and the daughter intercepted the bullet. Historians will quote her as an example while discussing courage, valour and heroic stances adopted by firm fisted women around the world.

How you would have fixed this mess had you still been alive is something we may never know the answer to. What we do know, however, is that the idea of freedom and liberation you represented would have been worlds apart from the state Pakistan is in today. The country finds itself in an ideological fix, more than anything else. You would have offered an alternative to the left of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the two other mainstream political entities in Pakistan – an alternative that the country severely lacks.

But did your death represent the end of all that was good for PPP and Pakistan? No, it did not.

There are moments of brilliance exhibited by your son. As PML-N and PTI squabble like children, the only maturity seems to come from the PPP which has maintained a dignified distance from all the shenanigans despite being weak electorally. But it will take more than this. It will take resolve, commitment and hard work for Pakistan’s most progressive political party to become a force to be reckoned with again.

In your son, the party finds itself in talented, yet inexperienced hands. However, age is only a number, and you showed that when you took charge of the party at the age of 29 (1982), and then entered the prime minister’s office on a wave of euphoria when you were 35 (1988).

You, more than ever, would have wanted to be alive when your son achieves what his mother and grandfather achieved before him. You may not be present physically, but your spirit remains. The courage that locked horns with Ziaul Haq, the charisma that portrayed Pakistan in a positive light world over, and the resolve that made you return to your motherland despite the public threats to your life. It all remains, and it is everyone’s responsibility to make sure that we do justice to your legacy and mission.

During Bibi’s last address to a public rally in Liaqat Baagh Rawalpindi, Benazir Bhutto seemed not less than a gallant warrior of democracy. Her resolve for rescuing the country from its ’socio-political quagmire’ strengthened with each word that she delivered on December 27, 2007.

Unfortunately, the nation didn’t get a chance to assess the mature political vibrancy of Benazir. The first woman premier of a Muslim country was shot dead soon after she bade farewell to her supporters at Liaqat Baagh. Pakistanis witnessed a second political assassination at the same place (first being that of Liaqat Ali Khan- first premier of Pakistan). The culprits are yet to be discovered and brought to book, for both the tragedies that befell the young nation. Her prognostication about the conditions following, in case of her assassination, turned into reality. ‘My death will serve as a catalyst for change’, said late Benazir.

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) won the general elections of 2008. The country got rid of Musharraf regime and the judiciary was restored after a long, monotonous struggle of coalition partners that joined the lawyers’ movement. Benazir’s widower, Asif Ali Zardari hailed the party as its vice-chairman and her son, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, embraced chairmanship at a young age. The next general elections are around the corner. It is for the first time in the political history of Pakistan that a democratically elected government is likely to complete its constitutional five-year tenure.

As per prophecy, her assassination did mark a significant wave of democratic transition.

Undoubtedly, Pakistan was enmeshed in innumerable problems like power crisis, faltering economy and the country’s steepening position into the abyss of extremism. The past five years weren’t easy for the subjects and the constituents.

Governments’ clash with the judiciary, a chequered relation with the opposition factions and disgruntled allies like the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) accounted for a fragile democratic stature. What baffled the most was the considerable deviance of the incumbent government from Benazir Bhutto’s political conviction.

In her first political speech that she has narrated in her book, ’Daughter of the East’, Benazir argued with Professor Michael Walzer on Pakistan’s inability to provide Bengalis with the right of self-determination. With her quivering lips, young Benazir, silenced an audience of 201 students (1 herself) as she opposed the Professor by stating that the right of self-determination was granted to Bengalis in 1947.

It’s a lamentable fact that Pakistan People’s Party under President Zardari didn’t follow the vocal audacity of Benazir to improve Pakistan’s place on the international horizon. I doubt if Shaheed-e-Jamhooriyat (martyr of democracy- the title PPP ascribes with Benazir) would have sent an op-ed to Washington Post in the wake of Abbotabad raid by the US Navy SEALs.

From the Movement to Restore Democracy (MRD) to her last publicly signed document, Charter of Democracy (CoD), her dissent for oppression, favour towards political liberty and commitment to democratic values was obvious. She was a confident leader who resisted subjugation and enslavement till her last breath. Another thing that goes to her credit is the way she reassembled the barracks of PPP to ensure that it remains a cohesive political force after Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s death.

The recent fragmentation of PPP with the exclusion of someone as important as Shah Mehmood Quraishi and thwarting echoes of members like Zulfiqar Mirza, depicts the inefficacy of today’s PPP to contain separatist divergence. A leadership which cannot serve as a unifier has a tendency to misgovern the country.

Although the post-Benazir PPP attempted to revive concepts of ’political reconciliation’ and national integration through coalitions and National Finance Commission Award, respectively. It takes performance and administrative efficiency to reside in the hearts of the masses. Benazir Bhutto wasn’t an adept administrator as well, but a visionary leader who possessed political acumen.

The ideological liberalism of the PPP requires a projection through governance strategies, articulation of public sentiments and clear political orientations. The nation poured in sympathy votes the last time as a token of homage to brave Benazir. Upcoming elections will conclude in accordance with the performance of Zardari-led PPP. The essential Bhuttoism isn’t that pure now as late Benazir mentions in Daughter of the East:

“My father’s imprint on me, however, keeps me going.”

Beautiful and charismatic, the daughter of one of Pakistan’s most popular leaders — Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, hanged by General Zia in 1979 — Benazir Bhutto is not only the first woman to lead a post-colonial Muslim state, she achieved a status approaching that of a royal princess, only to be stripped of her power in another example of the bitter political in-fighting that has riven her country.

Bhutto became the first female head of government in a Muslim state. She has been recognized all over the world as a fearless fighter against dictatorship and extremism and a staunch supporter of peaceful dialogue between Islam and the West.

From her upbringing in one of Pakistan’s richest families, the shock of the contrast of her Harvard and Oxford education, and subsequent politicization and arrest after her father’s death, Bhutto’s life has been full of drama. Her riveting autobiography, first published in 1988 and now updated to cover her own activities since then and how her country has changed since being thrust into the international limelight after 9/11, is an inspiring tale of strength, dedication and courage in the face of adversity.

The charismatic personality and tragic fate of Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated by terrorists, are described against the backdrop of the story of her family and contemporary political and social life in Pakistan and in close conjunction with the lives of other well-known South Asian politicians.

An assassin’s bullets and suicide bomb ended the life of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto; tragically, she followed in the footsteps of her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s Prime Minister [1973–1977], who was brutally hung by political rival and subsequent military dictator General Zia al Haq nearly thirty years ago. The tragic legacy of this family elucidates the political instability and schizophrenic personality of modern-day Pakistan: a complex, volatile and multifaceted nation whose diverse features have increasingly and frequently become accentuated by violence.

“Long live Bhutto!” – these were the last words of former Pakistan premier Benazir Bhutto.

Remembering Benazir Bhutto on her 11th death anniversary:

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Rava Desk

Rava is an online news portal providing recent news, editorials, opinions and advice on day to day happenings in Pakistan.

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